DC Guide: Fun Winter Activities

DC’s tourist season is decidedly in the spring and early summer, when millions of visitors come to see the cherry blossoms (which bloom late March to early April), the national monuments, and other DC attractions. A couple of years ago, I shared some things to do in DC that are not on the National Mall, and I’ve continued to share some of our favorite DC spots ever since. Winter in DC tends to be fairly quiet, which makes it a wonderful time to visit! So today I thought I’d share a few fun winter activities in DC.


Illustration by Molly Jacques for Oh So Beautiful Paper

U.S. Botanic Garden


Photos of the U.S. Botanic Garden by me via Instagram

The U.S. Botanic Garden is one of my most favorite DC destinations in the winter. It may be winter outside, but it’s always summer inside the garden conservatory! The citrus trees and orchids are both blooming, there are poinsettias everywhere (including pretty pale pink and white varieties), and if you happen to visit the gardens around closing time you’ll have a rare opportunity to see the gardens at night – all dressed up with special holiday season lighting. From Thanksgiving to January 5, the Botanic Garden hosts a wonderful seasonal exhibition with a special train exhibit and models of DC historical landmarks constructed entirely from natural materials.

Zoolights at the National Zoo


Photo via the National Zoo

Okay, so the National Zoo is at the top of our DC list any time of year, but from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day the Zoo gets all dressed up to celebrate the holidays. More than 500,000 LED lights transform the Zoo into a winter wonderland with animal silhouettes, musical light displays, and a garden light sculpture. Visitors can take a train tour through the zoo, ride a solar-powered carousel, and visit some of the indoor animal exhibits like the small mammal house and reptile discovery center. It’s fun for adults, but also really super fun if you happen to be traveling with kids. And the best part: admission is free!

Indoor Museums


Air and Space Museum Photos by me via Instagram


Museum of Natural History Photos by Em for Marvelous

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen us playing tourist in DC during our holiday break. While the museums aren’t completely empty, winter is a wonderful time to visit some of DC’s more popular museum destinations. We’re particularly fond of the Air and Space Museum and the Museum of Natural History, which are both great for kids, and both wings of the National Gallery of Art. And like all Smithsonian Institution museums, including the Zoo, the admission is free!

Go to a Caps Game


Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images via Bleacher Report

You may be surprised to learn that I’m a pretty big hockey fan! It hasn’t always been the case (I grew up in Florida, where hockey wasn’t really at the top of the sports hierarchy), but after living in DC for more than 10 years I’m totally on board. All it took was a well-timed HBO series and friends to explain the rules. Maggie and Trevor took us to our first Capitals game, and I’ve been hooked ever since. Tickets can be pricey, but games at the Verizon Center in DC’s Chinatown neighborhood are SO much fun!

Outdoor Ice Skating


Photo by Glyn Lowe Photoworks via Guest of a Guest

The DC area has several outdoor ice skating rinks, but my two favorites are the rinks at the National Sculpture Garden on the National Mall and Canal Park in the Navy Yard neighborhood of Southeast DC. The Sculpture Garden rink is adjacent to the National Gallery of Art, and a few Caps players have been known to stop by from time to time. Since it’s on the National Mall, the Sculpture Garden can get a wee bit crowded – especially on weekends. The ice skating rink at Canal Park is less touristy and can be a more relaxing way to spend an afternoon – and you can step into Park Tavern for a warm meal when you’re done!

p.s. More of our favorite DC activities right here!

  1. Oh this comes as the perfect time. We moved to DC a year ago and I was just sitting at my desk feeling really bummed about the rest of winter. I’d forgotten about the ice rink in the sculpture garden. I think that needs a visit. The Botanic Gardens are my favourite Christmas in DC thing, my husband proposed there four years ago on Christmas eve.

    • Hi Hannah,

      Oh good! I’m so glad the post is timely – and that you also enjoy the Botanic Garden! I was raised in Florida and the Garden was my winter home-away-from-home for my first couple of years in DC. And if you haven’t already been there, Mitisam Café at the American Indian Museum is the best lunch you’ll have anywhere near the National Mall, and it’s right across from the Garden!

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